Nancy Pelosi

Commencement Address at Trinity Washington University - May 20, 2012

Nancy Pelosi
May 20, 2012— Trinity University, Washington, D.C.
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Thank you Barbara Kennelly for your great leadership, your kind and generous words of introduction. It's a joy to be here at Trinity University Washington, D.C., with all of these glowing graduates in the Class of 2012, and more than a few good men who are with us today as well. I want to acknowledge, join Congresswoman Kennelly in singing the praises of President McGuire. She is a remarkable person. She is a great leader. She said that Barbara was a trailblazer for women in Congress, including me. Barbara is a trailblazer, President Pat McGuire is a builder. She has built Trinity College into something quite wonderful that we are all celebrating here today. I want to congratulate her for making Trinity College - we were always proud to be associated with Trinity College, but with your graduation here today we're even prouder.

First thing I want to do is for all of us to stand, turn and look at our families and friends and all who made our graduations possible and cheer them. Thank you family! Thank you family and friends! Thank you moms and dads, families and friends, and all who contributed to the success of each and every one of our graduates. We see them as a group but every one of them is a great story.

President Pat McGuire shared with us earlier today some of the stories that you wrote about your aspirations coming to Trinity College and how some of you are the first in your family to graduate from college. And again, this means you're pioneers, Pat is a pioneer blazing the way. And that is in the tradition of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. They have been referenced, but I'm going to reference them again because this is part of the sisterhood and brotherhood that we all share.

When I was at Trinity, Sister Margaret Claydon was the President of the College. She was in her thirties, she was not that much older than those of us who were in school, and was a great connection for us to the school sisters. Earlier we heard the beautiful invocation from Sister Mary Ellen Dow, Director of Campus Ministries, and we heard from Sister Patricia O'Brien from the Board of Trustees. Let's salute the Board of Trustees, the staff, the faculty of Trinity College, their leadership for making the way possible. And that connection to the sisters of Notre Dame, you know at that time, coming from Europe some of them, and then once they got here, directed by the Bishops to cross the country, or go around the cape because there was no Panama Canal then, to educate girls in the West, to create Missions and go out. This was very - women didn't go out alone in those days - they were true pioneers. And though they met, whether it was the fog, the tempest of the seas, the going over mountains, whatever it was to go West, they covered the country with education for girls. With a message that women had the potential to be leaders. So, this is an old mission. That is to say a longstanding mission that continues today. Aren't we proud to be associated with it? Thank you to the Sisters of Notre Dame.

So, I'm here, as I've said, Barbara Kennelly, my friend, she was, one thing I'm not sure Pat emphasized enough, not to add to her speech, said Barbara Kennelly was the first woman in the leadership in the Congress on the Democratic-side, well, and that meant the first woman in the leadership, and the doors that she opened for some of us enabled us to eventually have a first woman Speaker of the House. So, I thank her, I love her, our friendship is important to me, our Trinity connection is a strong one. Thank you Barbara Kennelly for everything.

Okay, so I want to hear about you. That's why we listened to the stories - we'll learn more from President Pat McGuire, and I see in your faces all of the anticipation, all of the enthusiasm for the future. They told me to tell you my story. Okay, so more than 50 years ago, because my graduation was 50 years ago - can you believe that, the big 5-0? More than 50 years ago, my parents' car turned into this driveway. There was no library. It was Main Hall, the chapel, that's what we saw first coming from Baltimore, Maryland where I'm from. Okay, let's hear it for Baltimore. Now, I came from a very Catholic family - very strict, very liberal in their politics, very conservative in their upbringing of their children - so as far as I could go away from home was to an all-women's Catholic college within 45 minutes of my home. And lucky for me, the best women's college academically - Catholic or not - was within 45 minutes. When we turned in here, it was like coming into Shangri La for many reasons. I had six older brothers - one died - so I was raised with five older brothers, at last I would have sisters. The excellent education that we received, the quality, the excellence of it, was so magnificent and Sister Joan was our teacher for political science, Dr. Fluegel, she was very conservative, but nonetheless we had the mix in our education taught to us, political science.

But what was really important is the friendships that we made. On the very first day at orientation, we made friends for life. I talk about it in a book, since you want to get ready to celebrate your graduations I promise not to go into length if you consider reading it in the book. The chapel was the center of our existence, here this was, this relatively small college with this magnificent chapel, of course, a manifestation of faith but also a place that we felt comfortable expressing that faith. The nuns taught us to think beyond ourselves. Think beyond ourselves. And that is still the mission of Trinity University Washington. When we were here, well you'll know, because the numbers speak for themselves, 50-years-ago, we campaigned for John F. Kennedy for President of the United States. When he became the first Catholic President, what an inspiration it was for us to campaign for him as volunteers, as almost teenagers and to, we couldn't vote, we weren't old enough to vote because it was 21 at the time, but while we were here, we saw the inauguration of a President, a new generation, first Catholic, but a young President who was an inspiration to the world, who gave hope to all of the people in our country who needed hope.

Today, you're graduating when another young President that you saw elected in your freshman year, many of you saw his inauguration. He's an inspiration to another generation, giving hope to the world. And we have that in common. And aren't we, and our country, fortunate for that?

I say that the nuns were pioneers and how President Pat, as the nuns always say to me when I say my mother wanted me to be a nun, the nuns in my own district in San Francisco say: ‘it's never too late.' President Pat, what you have done here because of Trinity College and what it is - Barbara referenced that we loved it when we were here, it had its moments when there was a challenge of do we keep it a women's college this or that? But it's that phrase that they say: the more something changes, the more it [stays] the same. The more Pat made the changes here at Trinity College, the more it was the same vibrant, dynamic, in-the-lead institution educating women, telling them to think beyond themselves, and also that they could do anything they set out to do. President Pat mentioned that Barbara and I had received on other occasions honorary degrees from Trinity College. Well, when I received mine I was the Speaker of the House, and when I received it one young woman from the District of Columbia came up to me and said: ‘you're Speaker of the House, that's really nice, but I'm going to be President of the United States.' That was so demonstrative of who you are - your vitality, your enthusiasm, your self-confidence, knowing your power as to what you have to contribute. That was, for me, I tell that story all over the country as what Trinity, the confidence that Trinity instills in our young people.

Okay, so then, people always ask me what path did you take to become the Speaker of the House, to go to Congress, all of that. And what path should I take they ask. And I say: ‘the best path for you is the path that you decide upon, not somebody else's path or what worked for them.' In our generation it was thought that we would have children and then go on to a career, maybe. And that was the path that I took. Five children in six years, the Catholic way. And so, when the opportunity came for me to run for Congress, I had never held elected office. I had worked as a volunteer in politics to the point that I was the Chair of the California Democratic Party, a great honor but still an unpaid volunteer position where I could manage the time around my family's needs. So, when the opportunity came to run for Congress - just to run, it didn't mean I was going to win - to run for Congress, I went to my youngest daughter, who was just - she would be going into senior year in high school, the other four were already in college, I told you how close they were in age. So, I went to her, I said: ‘Alexandra, mommy has an opportunity to run for Congress.' I had never suggested, thought about, wanted to, or anything - running for Congress. But people came to me, the woman who was in the seat said she wanted me to run. So, I took it up with my daughter Alexandra. I said: ‘I love my life. I love being home with you, but if it's alright with you, for a few days a week I'll be in Washington, if I win, to run for Congress. And she said something to me that I had never heard before. She looked up, now she's 16, young for her class, she looks up to me and she said: ‘Mother, get a life.' And so I did. And so I did. Not that I didn't have a wonderful life, but I expanded that horizon because I believed that being involved in politics was an extension of my role as mother to help other children - the one in five children in America who lives in poverty - that is my driving force.

So then, - I'm there, I'm there for a dozen more years, 15 years or so, and the opportunity to run for leadership came. I took the challenge, ran for leadership, the men in the Caucus said: ‘you're not next.' I said: ‘no, we've been waiting over 200 years, women are next.' So, in any case, when I decided to run and won the position, I went to the White House, and this is an important story for you to take home with you I think, when I went to the White House for my first meeting - now, I had been to the White House many times as a member of the Appropriations Committee, as Barbara mentioned, as a member of the Intelligence Committee as has been mentioned, so I wasn't apprehensive about it at all until I got to the room where the meeting would be. The President and the Vice President of the United States, President Bush was President then, and the leadership of the Congress, Democratic and Republican, House and Senate, President Bush always a very gracious man, welcomed me and very graciously, to the table for the first time.

So, when I walked in though, I realized that this meeting was unlike any meeting I had ever attended at the White House. In fact it was unlike any meeting any woman had ever attended at the White House because I was walking in, elected by my colleagues, to represent the first branch of government, the legislative branch, Article I, at that table with the President. I was not there by his appointment. However wonderful that is, to have a Presidential appointment, I was there at the election of my peers. And as he was graciously welcoming, as I mentioned, I felt really crowded - on my chair it was crowded, I was squeezed in. I'd never had that feeling before and then all of a sudden I realized that sitting on that chair with me in that room were all the suffragettes - Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott - you name it, they were all there, I think even Sister Julie Bulliard probably was sitting there too, Susan B. Anthony, Sojourner Truth, Alice Paul, they were all on that chair with me, was very tight. And I could hear them say: ‘at last we have a seat at the table.' And then they were gone. And all I could think was: ‘we want more.' We want more women. We want more minorities. We want more diversity at that table so we have the benefit of the thinking of all Americans.

When that happened though, I realized, which I knew, but I realized more fully that I was standing on the shoulders of many women who had gone before. When we talk about Barbara Kennelly's leadership being 22 Members, then when I got there 24 Members, women Members, you have to remember that was out of 435. Out of 435 people, only 22 or 24 were women. And this is really important, for women to take their leadership roles. It is really important whether we're talking about the growth of our economy, the education of our children, the strength of our military, the vitality of our academic - any arena that you can name, benefits from the fuller participation of leadership of women in it. And that is your role as we go forward.

I also think, just speaking from the standpoint of the political arena in which I contend, that we must reduce the role of money, increase the role of civility, and then, I promise you, we will elect more women to public office. I took this message with me last week when I went on Mother's Day - every year on Mother's Day, I visit our troops. We had this year an all-women's delegation of Members of Congress to visit our troops in Qatar, on the way to Afghanistan, and then in Afghanistan. We spent Mother's Day with the Marines in Helmand Province and with the Army later in the day at Kandahar and then in Kabul to say to them: ‘thank you for keeping America's families strong' but also to celebrate the leadership of women in the military. There are so many moms and, believe it or not, grand-moms who are serving our military and they make it stronger and they make it better and they should have every opportunity to rise to the heights in our military. But we also met with many women across Afghanistan, who are Afghan, whether they were the poorest of the poor, maybe a beggar, or the most educated, an attorney, a doctor, an academic of high standing, and we shared the message: that decisions that are made by a country are better decisions the more women have a role and a seat at the table. It's true in America. It's true in Afghanistan. And we told President Karzai that we wanted to see more women participate in those decisions. We've expended so much in terms of the lives and the health of our loved ones fighting the war, the money that it costs to do it, the time and the rest, we did not do this for women to go backward in Afghanistan.

So, I just make that point because it was what I did last week. But what I did a couple years ago, as my final story to you, and that is, others have mentioned the health care bill, I'm not going to go into the details, just to say one sentence: no longer will being a woman be a preexisting medical condition under the health care bill. Again, we're back at the White House at the signing ceremony, President Obama has gathered all those who worked hard to pass the bill, those that would benefit from it, and the rest. And we're all there for the signing. It was quite incredible. And after he signed the bill, two Trinity sisters went up to him - Secretary of Health and Human Services Sebelius, Class of '70 Trinity College and Nancy Pelosi, then-Speaker of the House. So, we went up to the President and we said: ‘Mr. President would you have a picture taken on this historic day with the Trinity sisters. And he said: ‘yes, where are they?' expecting to see someone in a habit I guess and we said: ‘we're the Trinity sisters.' ‘We represent the Trinity sisters here.' But imagine. This was legislation that stands right up there with Social Security and Medicare, and now health care for all Americans as a right, not a privilege, and two of the people who had a leading role in making it happen were Trinity sisters, graduates of Trinity college.

So, as we are all part of this sisterhood and, as I said, some of our brothers who are here today, as you accept your degree - you know when we graduate, we were so proud of our degrees and what they would lead to for us, how they enhanced who we were, how we learned, how we enhanced our values here at Trinity. We were so proud of that degree. But I honestly have to say to you, that looking at each and every one of you, I've never been prouder of my own degree than the fact that you're expecting that same degree today. Thank you for increasing the work of our degree.

We walked the same marble halls. We studied under the same red tile roof. We have a sisterhood that is important. You; you class of 2012, you are the future. You will see things we never could have dreamed of when we were at Trinity, or many years since. I will come back in two weeks to Trinity College for the big 5-0, for the big 5-0 - how could it be? It goes faster than you think. Considering the alternative, it's a pretty good thing to come to, and when I do I will tell my colleagues, my colleagues - I'll tell them too in Congress - but my fellow alumni, members of the alumni association, about you. How proud we all are of you. How much you make Trinity shine even brighter than we could ever have imagined. I want you to do just, if you don't read anything, just read the title of my book: ‘Know Your Power' know the power of what you have learned, the values that have deepened, the love of your families who made this all possible. Know your power to be a very different person from anybody else, to make your own distinct contribution to our future.

Congratulations Class of 2012! Congratulations for making everything better for our Trinity! Congratulations and thank you for the opportunity to speak with you.”

Pelosi, Nancy. 2012. "Pelosi Delivers Commencement Address at Trinity Washington University." Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, May 20, 2012 press release.